Showing posts with label conflict antiquities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conflict antiquities. Show all posts

February 20, 2019

Interview with open source intelligence analyst Sam Hardy


By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 15, 2019 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, I'm speaking with all course professors on the program as well as those who are guest lecturers or researching at ARCA. This week I speak with archaeologist and Open source intelligence analyst Sam Hardy, one of the trainers on the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq program in the Middle East, in which ARCA worked with UNESCO and other UNESCO partners to train heritage specialists working in the Middle East.


Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I did a BA in Archaeology and Prehistory at the University of Sheffield, where I developed an interest in the relationship between archaeological practice and human rights in general and the past and present of South-Eastern Europe in particular. Then I did an MA in Cultural Heritage Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, where I started to focus on the treatment of cultural property during crisis and conflict.

During my MSc-DPhil at the University of Sussex, a series of accidents led me from attempting to explore peace education at historic sites in first Kosovo then Cyprus, to exploring destruction and propaganda and, since the crimes were interconnected, looting in Cyprus. As open-source research into destruction - like that done by Bellingcat - and particularly into trafficking is still an emerging field, there was no career path to follow, at least not one that was defined.

Still, I developed a specialism in open-source research (that pieces together new understandings from disparate, publicly-accessible sources), focused on conflict antiquities trafficking (trafficking of, and other profiteering from, cultural goods that finance political violence), connected with ARCA - and collaborated with Lynda Albertson in checking claims of damage to sites in Syria and Iraq - then got contracts from the American University of Rome, Global Witness, UNESCO and ICOM followed by fellowships from Koç University in Turkey and UCL Qatar.

I would like to note, it was only thanks to the support of friends from the Institute of Archaeology, and the women who've been my bosses throughout my career, that I managed to stay in the profession. For women who are considering a career in this field, they should know that they would be joining a rich history of "trowelblazers", are the majority in archaeology and heritage and are earning the same as men.

All of this has somehow led me to the dream job that I'm about to start at the Norwegian Institute in Rome, within the Heritage Experience Initiative of the University of Oslo, where I'm going to be the Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Cultural Heritage and Conflicts. Over the next three years, I'm going to explore the relationship between antiquities trafficking and political violence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, from the politics of policing, to the involvement of organised criminals and armed groups (including state forces), to the exploitation of the refugee crisis, and to the deployment of propaganda.

What do you do at ARCA?

I've been fortunate enough to work with ARCA on the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq training through UNESCO for cultural heritage professionals and law enforcement agents from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, which has helped local efforts to combat trafficking across the region. I also co-taught one of the courses in 2018 on open source research methods.  When I'm not indulging my interest in the most bizarre features of the subject, like Russian propaganda, I've also been able to collaborate with others in and through ARCA to find and check evidence in ongoing research.

In anticipation of the ARCA program, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

One academic article I'd recommend is "uncovering the illicit traffic of Russian ancient icons from Russia to Germany" by Laure Coupillaud Szustakowski, who took the ARCA programme and whose paper I first heard at the ARCA conference. Some of my work depends on risky journalism. I would recommend Özgen Acar and Melik Kaylan's investigations into organised crime in Turkey and beyond from 1988 and 1990 (in English), which I still use now, but they're only really accessible as difficult-to-read archive copies. More recent investigations include those by Esther Saoub and her colleagues on looting in Syria (in German), by Mike Giglio and Munzer al-Awad on trafficking out of Syria (in English), by Benoit Faucon and his colleagues on dealing in antiquities from Syria (in English) and by Frédéric Loore on the ransoming of stolen works of art by the terrorists who attacked Paris and Brussels (in French).

Which course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

I've had the chance to listen and learn when Dick Drent and Dick Ellis co-taught during the ARCA-UNESCO training with me. Despite focusing on different parts of the trade in different countries and using different methods, Christos Tsirogiannis and I have developed a common interest in certain shady characters, so it'd be great to hear him explain the intricacies of his work.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Amelia is a foodie treat for me and I'm not even a foodie. Not eating dairy can really limit your options, especially in Italy, but the Amerini (the name for local town folk) make allergy-friendly food that tastes great - and I once got to be the sous-chef for a Syrian-Iraqi feast. I'd get in trouble with one friend or another for suggesting Spritz, either because it's from Venice or because it dilutes Prosecco, but I can safely and sincerely recommend the local wines.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June. 

There's always interesting research, new contacts and old friends - I look forward to it every year.


For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org


Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

February 17, 2019

The Metropolitan Museum, Christophe Kunicki and a Luxor dealer names Tawadros: More questions than answers on recent Egyptian acquisitions

In researching details related to the acquisition and current restitution of the 1st century Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, I came across two other objects which show Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  

One of those objects is:

A Monumental Stela of Kemes , ca. 1750–1720 BCE



The provenance currently listed on the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes states:


A check of open source records using the names Ewe Schnell, Heinz Herzer and Pierre Bergé & Associés combined only turns up one other antiquity,  a panel painting of a woman in a blue mantle, which is also an acquisition within the Metropolitan Museum's collection. 


Serop Simonian is an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  He's interesting in that he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy regarding his involvement with the disputed Artemidorus papyrus, which he managed to sell in 2004 for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation notwithstanding that some experts have ascertained that it is a fake.  As the statute of limitations on that piece ran out, Simonian was never charged. 

On April 25, 2016 the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes stated the provenance as something quite different:


This earlier collection history mentions a "Todrous Collection" of which there is nothing documented in open source records anywhere on the web for any other ancient objects.  A late antique textile fragment of a tunic with the inventory number T 34, from "the Tamerit collection" is on record at the at the Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek at the Austrian National Library though not much else.

Note this Metropolitan Museum record spells the name Todrous, while the recently restituted mummy spells the name Tawadrus, and trade journals spell the name Tawadros.  Later in this post you will also see the name spelled Tadross

Christophe Kunicki's own dealer website listed the provenance as:

Ancient european private collection, 1969.
With Tadross, Luxor, 1960’s

Stepping back even farther, outside of the museum's website, the Monumental Stela of Kemes was published in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology.

This trade magazine listed the provenance as follows:

A rare Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, superior of musicians (3), from the 13th Dynasty, circa 1770 BC (H. 73cm), in the form of a quadrangular naos resting upon a base carved with façades, was purchased from the Luxor dealer Tawadros during the 1960s. The cover-piece of the sale, it was estimated at €300,000-€400,000, but brought in a hammer price of just €200,00 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The expert for both sales was Christophe Kunicki.

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Notice that the involvement of the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in furthering this acquisition transaction does not appear in any of the Metropolitan Museum's provenance records for the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes.  It only appears in the bimonthly trade rag for antiquities dealers.  Purchased on 21 May 2014 the Met's record also leaves out the "Luxor dealer Tawadros" connection on this object.  The name of that person is also the name associated on the  now restituted 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.

Note: Kunicki's website lists another egyptian object with the name "Habib Tawadros" giving us a another artefact linked to this mysterious Luxor dealer.

ARCA has notified the Egyptian authorities that this piece too may require closer examination. 

By Lynda Albertson

February 16, 2019

Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum has agreed to return its 1st century B.C.E gold-sheathed mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of the high-ranking priest Nedjemankh.  The late Ptolemaic (or Hellenistic) antiquity was purchased via art dealer Christophe Kunicki, who lists himself on his website as a member of the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Oeuvres d’Art and the Chambre Européenne des Experts d’Art.  

Purchased for €3.5m in 2017, Nedjemankh’s coffin had reportedly been on consignment with the Paris dealer via an unidentified private collector.  Created out of cartonnage in the last century of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, a material used in Ancient Egyptian funerary objects from the First Intermediate Period to the Roman era, the object is made up of layers of linen stiffened with animal glue and layers of gesso. Evidence presented to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and confirmed by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture indicate that the antiquity may have been looted from Egypt in 2011 and exported utilizing fraudulent documents.

Note that the timeframe of the possible plunder, listed by the New York Times, and the Egyptian authorities coincides with the fall of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, Egypt's former military and political leader, who served as president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.  After the so called Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities reported a significant uptick in heritage looting, exacerbated in part by the country's revolution and subsequent political upheaval.

The spartan collecting history information listed for the artifact on the Metropolitan Museum's website states that the antiquity was "officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection."  A second page on the museum's website, which has since been removed, listed the artifact's provenance as follows:

"The coffin was exported in 1971 from Egypt with an export license granted by the Antiquities Organization / Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It belonged to the stock of Habib Tawadrus, a dealer active since at least 1936, with a shop Habib & Company in Cairo opposite Shepheard’s Hotel, and was exported by the representative of the Tawadrus’ heirs to Switzerland. An official translation of the export license was provided by the German embassy in Cairo in February 1977 for the use of the representative and now owner in Europe. The coffin has remained in the family of that owner until its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in 2017."

This spartan amount of information, on an ancient object of this significance, drew the attention of blogger Paul Barford in September 2017 shortly after the purchase was announced.


Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York goes back at least as far as September/October 2014, when his involvement in two purchases was highlighted in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology as having advised the museum on two other purchases. 

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Those objects, memorialized in the screenshot above, were a 26th Dynasty granodiorite head of the Pharaoh Apries, purportedly from the collection of Olivier Cacoub and the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes in the form of a quadrangular naos resting on a base carved with façades.  The later of these was purportedly from the same "Luxor dealer Tawadros," in the 1960s, whose name is attached to the golden mummiform coffin that has just been repatriated.  It is not known at present if these objects are being given closer examination.

The Met’s management has formally apologized to Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of antiquities.

In it's press release the museum added:

 "All of the Museum’s acquisitions of ancient art undergo a rigorous vetting process in recognition of the 1970 UNESCO treaty, in adherence to the Association of Art Museum Director’s Guidelines on the Acquisition of Ancient Art and Archaeological Materials, and in compliance with federal and state laws."

Given that the Met developed a substantial exhibition around this golden-sheathed coffin, one would think that the museum's "rigorous vetting process" would have also included a close analysis of export documentation to check for fabrication and forgery.

A video from the Met Presents series featuring Curator Janice Kamrin and Conservator Anna Serotta talking about the coffin of Nedjemankh can be viewed here.

Upon the artefact's return to Egypt, it has been decided that the repatriated burial coffin will be displayed in the Egyptian Museum of Liberation until the Grand Egyptian Museum opens in 2020.

Notation:  Note this Metropolitan Museum record the name of the Luxor dealer as Tawadrus, while elsewhere in its records it records other objects using the name Todrous.  The trade journal above spelled the name Tawadros.  Another dealer spells the name as Tadross.




By:  Lynda Albertson








February 8, 2019

Judge Tompkins returns to Amelia to this summer to teach "Art Crime in War” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis


This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 14, 2019 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Arthur Tompkins from New Zealand, a judge and specialist on art crimes during war.



Can you tell us something about your background and work?

Certainly! I am a Judge in New Zealand, based in Wellington. In my day job I try both criminal and civil cases, plus I sit on the NZ Parole Board. I have been a judge for over 20 years now, and I still enjoy my job. I like the variety, the unexpectedness of each day, and the interaction with the whole cross-section of the community I serve.

I have been coming to teach Art in War, at Amelia, since 2010. I first visited in 2009, when the first ARCA program was underway, to present at the Art Crime Conference, Noah Charney asked me to come back the next year to teach my course, and the rest is history...

What do you feel is the most relevant part of your course? 

I like to think that over the five days of my course - first the historical survey when we cover 25 centuries of armed conflict, from the Classical World through to Iraq and Syria, and many conflicts in between, and then the response of the international and private legal systems to what has occurred - discerning the common features of the arc of art crime in war are very relevant. The ways in which, during war, art is displaced, lost, destroyed, stolen, and sometimes saved, vary enormously in their individual circumstances, but underlying the variety is the sameness of it: the intensely symbolic way in which art is viewed by combatants, who seek to use (or destroy) art to serve their wider purpose. So, despite the variation of circumstances, there are common features which happen over and over again - hence the need to learn the lessons of history, and to protect the art anew in the face of every new conflict.

What do you hope participants will get out of your course? 

I hope that by the end of the course the participants will have an appreciation both of the wide sweep of human history, as manifested by humankind's many conflicts, and against that backdrop the way that humankind's great art has been fought over, pursued, made vulnerable, and (perhaps not as often as we would like) made secure so that it survives the tempest swirling around it. And I hope that, when faced with the outbreak of a new conflict, thy will come to realise that the inevitable threat to the art caught up by the red-hot rake of the battle-line is not new, that there are valuable lessons to be learned from past mistakes, and that the art can, with effort and determination and will, be protected despite the clash of arms surrounding it.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom? 

We gather in the lecture hall at the start time of the day, usually with copious bottles of water and perhaps a coffee or two, and embark on a close look at whatever part of human history we have reached that day. This will usually be done via illustrated lectures from me, interspersed with short student presentations about a number of the major art works we encounter during the day. A week or so before my class starts, I ask each participant to sign up to talk to the class about one or two artworks that we will touch on or discuss during the course. Sometimes the participants will already know about the work, perhaps they have seen it, or have some personal connection to it, other times they will come to it completely fresh. Their presentations usually summarise the history of the work and the artist, perhaps talking a bit about the place the work has in the artist's oeuvre, and what happened to it during the war that engulfed it.

We have five hours of class time each day, with that being broken up by coffee (or gelato) breaks, and a long lunch break in the heat of the middle of the day. So, although it is an intense few days, we enjoy frequent time out to recharge! During the course, each participant completes a short essay, on some aspect of art crime during war. The last part of the course is then taken up with individual students giving slightly longer presentations to the class when they talk about the essay they submitted, the art work or works, the fate of the works during war, the story of their survival, or whatever it might be. I am constantly fascinated by the wide variety of subjects they come up with each year, to research and write about.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything you learn from them in class?

The most valuable thing is that I learn to look at art with new eyes, especially during the participant presentations. Often these will cover aspects of art crime during war that we do not have time to cover in class, or only touch upon very briefly. I learn a lot during these presentations, and come away with a fresh respect for the research skills and breadth of experience of ARCA's attendees!

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

There have been two high-profile movies in the last few years which have been based squarely on the fate of art in war. Both are worth watching before taking my course, but for different reasons. George Clooney's Monuments Men got most of the art right, but a lot of the rest of the always fascinating story of the Monuments Men (and Women) mostly wrong. Helen Mirren's Woman in Gold did much better - getting both the art, and the surrounding tragedy of the very human story of the painting's fate (within the inevitable constraints of a two hour movie), right.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique? 

There are a number of aspects, I think, that make the ARCA course unique. First, the setting - the wonderful ancient town of Amelia, slightly isolated because of the absence of a railway station, is the perfect setting for a summer programme - small enough to get to know very quickly, but with a labyrinthine Old Town that constantly surprising no matter how often you have walked its twisting and turning streets and alleys and tunnels and stairs. There is always something fresh and surprising around the next corner! The town has a rhythm to its daily life that quickly propels both those involved in the ARCA program into the centre of Italian town life - the casual friendliness of the locals, the evening passeggiata, the always-open (or so its seems) cafes and bars that are so central to the community's life, and the beauty of the ancient surroundings.

Then there is the multidisciplinary faculty, drawn from a very wide spectrum of disciplines and areas of expertise, who bring decades of experience and wisdom to their respective courses. And finally there is the distilling of what, in any other setting, might be a year or more of classes, into an intense and concentrated period of time spent in Amelia - where everyone in the course is there because they really want to be there, sharing a common fascination with art and the crimes committed against it, and where everyone you meet is happy to share and to learn.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

Personally, I would be fascinated by the Museum Security course - one of the by-products of teaching art crime is that you can't just visit a museum or a gallery or an exhibition without thinking about what might happen if someone else took it into their heads to commit a crime against the art you are enjoying - a theft or an attack or some other misguided venture. So I often wonder about the unseen protections that (I hope) carefully guard the art work...and the striking of the difficult balance between accessibility - making the art open and accessible and able to be enjoyed by many visitors - and protection, which often means compelling visitors to step back and not enjoy the up-close-and-personal experience of the art that might otherwise be possible, is a dynamic and ever-changing challenge that I would love to know more about.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Learn at least some rudimentary Italian before you arrive, enough to say hello and good morning and good evening, and to order coffee and gelato and pizza! And use that to get to know some of the locals, and experience something of their lives. I now have friends who live in Amelia, and catching up with them is one of the annual joys of my visits back to Amelia.

Judge Arthur Tompkins' writing on the
Four Horses of the Basilica of San Marco
made its way into Dan Brown's bestseller, Inferno.
Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class? 

The Italian railway system is a constant source of enjoyment, frustration, annoyance, wonder and humour, that almost never disappoints! And a visit to Venice, whilst we still can, is high on my list of recommendations - it is such an irrational and unexpected place, that should not exist, but defiantly does, and it hides a multitude of joys. Not the least of which are the Four Horses of the Basilica of San Marco, the artwork with the longest history of crimes being committed against them (roughly 2500 years, give or take a few centuries). Come take my course to learn their fascinating story!  Venice was also the home of the largest stolen painting on public display anywhere in the world - Veronese's Wedding at Cana, taken from the refectory of the Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore by Napoleon, transported to the Louvre (after being cut into several pieces), and hung there, up until recently, opposite the Mona Lisa, where it used to get overlooked by thousands every day!

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

I can't always get to the conference, but when I do the sheer breadth of experience and knowledge on display year after year is wonderful - ARCA does a great job of gathering together the foremost specialists in the fight against art crime from around the world, and provides a forum for both specialist presentations, and the free exchange of information, of views, of contacts, and renewing and making friendships. And because the conference is based in Amelia, the warmth of the welcome from the town is an added highlight - and introducing newcomers to the joys of Amelia, and discovering new joys in the process, is always memorable!


For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org


Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

May 19, 2017

Look into my eyes, but also into my collection history.

Collecting ancient art can be an extension of a personal passion, a status symbol or a piece of cultural currency but it also serves as a defacto calling card for the current-day purchaser's own collecting ethics.

As this new video, produced by the UNESCO Beirut Office in the framework of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project, underscores, conscientious and ethical antiquities collectors can and should demand that their source dealer or auction house provide a full and complete provenance record before making a purchase. 


UNESCO reminds collectors to keep an eye out for these red flags:

- Is there dirt on the object? 
- Does the object seem like a broken fragment of what could be a larger artifact? 
- Is there a reference number painted on the base of the object that could indicate it was looted from a museum? 
- Does the object's price seem too good to be true?

and finally...
- Can the seller provide you with the object’s provenance paperwork?

Likewise, ARCA reminds its readership that an object's reported collection history as reported by a dealer or auction house should not always be taken as complete or accurate.  Collection histories can, and often are, faked.

As this blog has reported frequently, many consignors and auction houses omit passages that sometimes reflect irregularities in acquisition or fail to advise would-be purchasers that an antiquity they wish to purchase has passed through the hands of a tainted individual or art dealer already known to have a reputation for illicit trafficking in the antiquities art market. 

The art market’s appetite for antiquities, and the profits to be had from this appetite, will always be a motivation for others to loot them.

It is ultimately up to the collector to demand ethical selling practices from the dealers or collectors they purchase antiquities from.  Prospective buyers should demand to see import and export licenses for the object they are considering and they should require the seller/consignor/auction house make those documents available.

The prudent purchaser should vet the trophy works that they purchase for their collections, cross checking all of the accompanying documentation.  Is there an export license? Does that document look authentic? Has the license been falsified?  Has the country of origin been falsified? Does the country of export match with the country of the object's origin?  Does the object have a find spot?   How far back does the chain of ownership go? and are there any other red flags like "property of an anonymous collector"?

Collectors should not discount the unacceptable buying and selling habits of those profiting from the ancient art market and they should especially be careful when purchasing antiquities from regions of conflict.

Just as property investors thoroughly vet the status and ownership of a property they are interested in, before entering into a business transaction, so should art collectors remember that it is their responsibility to conduct adequate due diligence on the artworks they purchase. 

October 19, 2016

Abu Dhabi Police arrest three for illicit marketing and circulation of the antiquities


Photo Credit : Gulf news
goo.gl/VQq1Xa
Via the the state-run WAM news agency Brigadier General Dr. Rashid Bu Rasheed, Director of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Abu Dhabi Police has confirmed that law enforcement officials have foiled an attempt to smuggle illicit objects into the Gulf country. 


The nationalities of the smugglers has not been released. For the present, the objects will remain with the UAE authorities for security and pending further review.  No further information has been released at present as to if these objects originate from current areas of conflict. 

Stolen artefacts largely move from poor course countries to rich market countries.  Smugglers often buy antiquities from looters within their network before selling them on knowingly and unknowingly to dealers and collectors 

The antiquities markets in Gulf States such as the UAE are known transit and terminus points for illicit antiquities.  Fakes and forgeries of coins and artworks also pop up frequently via well known dealers operating within the country. 

One example of a previous illicit antiquities seizure in the AUE is outlined on Paul Barford's 2010 report excerpted here:



A sampling of similar incidents of importing or exporting of illicit antiquities via the UAE can be found below.

https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-makes-arrests-and-seizes-cultural-artifacts-stolen-egypt

http://www.uaeinteract.com/docs/Dubai_Customs_foil_a_major_attempt_to_smuggle_antiquities/33117.htm

http://thetrialwarrior.blogspot.it/2011/08/prosecutors-reveal-further-details-in.html





October 27, 2015

America’s Museum of the Bible - Hobby Lobby Owners Under Federal Investigation for Possibly Trafficked Assyrian and Babylonian Cuneiform Tablets

For years various academics have questioned the collecting and conservation practices of billionaire collector Steve Green, the philanthropist behind the $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible.  Slated to open in 2017, the museum will occupy a historically protected warehouse built in 1923 just minutes away from the National Mall and the US Capitol in Washington DC.  But Green's collection raises more questions than it answers.

Where are the thousands of antiquities coming from that have been purchased to supply this expansive museum?   And as a private museum, has the largest evangelical benefactor in the world cut corners in formulating his museum's acquisition policy, forgoing the standards propounded by museum associations and those dictated by international treaties?

Most of the general public are more familiar with the Green family via their landmark case against the US government objecting to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which required that corporations above a certain size provide medical insurance benefits to their employees, including coverage for certain contraceptive methods.  In approving an exemption as a result of the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. (2014), the US Supreme Court decided in Hobby Lobby's favour stating that the Affordable Care Act's mandate requiring that for-profit corporations supply their employees with access to contraceptives at no cost to the insured employee could be opted out of by commercial enterprise owners who are opposed to contraceptive coverage based upon their religious beliefs.

GC.MS.000462, a papyrus fragment sold
on eBay in 2012 which has a text from
Galatians 2:2-4, 5-6 in the New Testament
But the Green's success in rulings over contraception has now been overshadowed by a federal investigation into the museum's collection practices regarding antiquities from ancient Assyria and Babylonia, what is now Iraq.

According to the Museum of the Bible website, the Green's purchased their first biblical object in November 2009.   Since that time, their collection has grown to an estimated 40,000 objects including Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.   That's 6,666 objects per year or a whopping 18 objects purchased per day. Compare that to the number of employees currently working for the Greens in relation to their new museum and one can surmise that an object's collection history has not been a principle concern among the staff or consultants vetting historic items for inclusion in the museum's collection.

In April of 2014 Italian papyrologist Roberta Mazza, a lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at University of Manchester, pointed out her concerns surrounding a papyri fragment in the Green's collection. Mazza identified a small papyrus codex page containing lines from Galatians 2 in Sahidic Coptic during a visit to the exhibition, Verbum Domini II, organized by the Green Collection in Vatican City, Rome.  As might be expected, the fragment had a less than stellar collection history.

Belonging to the Green Collection, the fragment was first identified back in October 2012 by Dr. Bryce C. Jones, then a PhD student at Concordia University's Department of Religion.  The Galatians 2 papyrus had previously been listed for sale on the online auction site eBay that same year through an irreputable dealer using the name “mixantik”.  “Mixantik”, who also has used the names "ebuyerrrrr" and "Yasasgroup", is/was an Istanbul-based trader with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ancient Coptic and Greek papyrus fragments from Egypt, all with little or no provenance.  This seller was also someone whom academics like Dr. Dorothy King and archaeologist Paul Barford had openly reported for trading contrary to Turkish and International law.

Concerned about the provenance of this piece of papyrus as well as other Green Collection practices, Roberta Mazza asked David Trobisch, the current director of the Museum of the Bible, both publicly and privately for more information on the acquisition circumstances of two specific pieces in the family's collection, GC.MS.000462 (Galatians 2) and P. GC. inv. 105 (the Sappho fragments). 

From the Green's employee she learned that the Galatians 2 Coptic fragment was purchased in 2013 by Steve Green from someone referred to as "a trusted dealer".   Records in the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection archives attest that the papyrus was part of the David M. Robinson collection which was sold at a Christie’s auction in London in November 2011.   

The fact that the auction sale records give no mention of the eBay seller, and conveniently does not contain a photographic record or detailed description of what the 59 packets of papyri fragments contain is suspect to say the least.  This lack of detailed documentation on auction sales involving antiquities makes it difficult to ascertain if any given object's origin is either licit or illicit.  This easy loophole leaves the door open for both buyers and sellers to slide suspect objects into the stream of international commerce undetected.  In a nutshell this method may be used to effectively launders smuggled cultural contraband and give an illegitimate object a plausibly legitimate collection history. 

Speeding forward to today, The Daily Beast has reported that the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq over import irregularities related to 200 to 300 clay cuneiform tablets seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel.  The jointly-written article was written by Biblical scholars Joel Baden, professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale University and Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Cary Summers, president of the Museum of the Bible, spoke with Daily Beast reporters exclusively on Monday and stated that a federal investigation was ongoing and that “There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork—incomplete paperwork that was attached to it.” 

In 2008, the U.S. imposed an emergency import restriction on any archaeological and ethnological materials defined as "cultural property of Iraq. This import restriction was imposed to protect items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or religious importance at risk of trafficking as the result of unrest in the country.  This import restriction continues additional restrictions already in effect continuously since August 6, 1990.

The selling of ancient Iraqi artifacts is absolutely prohibited under UN resolution 1483 from 2003, as you may find in paragraph 7 of the link here. 

A source familiar with the Hobby Lobby investigation told reporters at the Daily Beast that the cuneiform tablets were described as samples of “hand-crafted clay tiles” on their FedEx shipping label and were valued at under $300.   If true, this seems less like an simple oversight on the part of the shipper and more like direct falsification, not just of these objects' value but of their historic significance and origin as its doubtful that cuneiform tablets will be showing up in the Wall Decor section of Hobby Lobby anytime soon. 

American imports of art, collections and collectors' pieces, and antiques from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria increased sharply between 2011 and 2013. Is a pattern developing?  Is this how heritage artifacts from source countries plagued by conflict are being folded into legitimate museum and private collections?

David Trobisch has stated that the Green Collection has one of the largest cuneiform tablet collections in the country.

In selecting antiquities, individual collectors and museums have choices. They can choose to focus exclusively on the historic, aesthetic and economic benefits of their acquisitions in formulating their collections or they can add ethical and moral criteria to their purchase considerations and not purchase conflict or blood antiquities.

By Lynda Albertson 

Excerpt from ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
©2013


September 30, 2015

Highlights from “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage”


In an awareness raising initiative to highlight the ongoing upheaval and destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, the Metropolitan Museum and the US State Department jointly held an event yesterday titled, “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage” in New York City.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted one example of a looted and not destroyed antiquity that is known to have passed through the hands of ISIS operatives.  The object, a 9th century B.C.E: ivory plaque, decorated with a procession of Assyrian officials and foreign tributaries was excavated at the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud by a team from the British Museum in 1989.  The plaque was recovered by U.S. special operations forces during a tactical raid that killed a key ISIS commander, identified by his nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf, last May in al-Omar in eastern Syria.

This ancient object is known to have been looted from the Mosul Museum (Iraq) and underscores what many following illicit antiquities trafficking have already concluded, that the Islamic State not only destroys objects it find religiously offensive or useful for its public propaganda but also has been known to plunder antiquities for some level of financial gain or as war booty when opportunity knocks. 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Keller added that "newly declassified evidence" seized when American Delta Force commandos took out Abu Sayyaf and twelve other Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters included receipts collecting taxes from looters as well as written edicts that threatened punishment for those caught looting antiquities without formal Islamic State permission. 

While some of this information appears to be newly declassified, conflict antiquities archaeologist Dr. Sam Hardy released a lengthy analysis of the heritage hoard seized during the Abu Sayyaf raid when details of the cache were released by the State Department in July 2015.  That analysis has been available for two months and can be reviewed here.  

Robert A. Hartung, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Affairs announced a new initiative within their "Rewards for Justice" program,  an incentive established by the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism, Public Law 98-533.   The program is administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and announced yesterday that they are set to 


Hartuung emphasized that the Rewards for Justice incentive is not a buyback program, but reward for help in identifying and catching smugglers linked to ISIS.  At present this reward appears to be restricted solely to the Islamic State and does not appear to be not available for information leading to the disruption of the sale of illicit antiquities by other armed groups or other non political traffickers profiting from the absence of controls during the ongoing war.

Another panel discussion highlighted the work of the US government-sponsored organisation currently tasked with ground-based observations of cultural heritage incidents in Syria and Iraq. Michael Danti, from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), who’s group has just been allocated a second tranche of federal funding totalling $900,000 in an extension to their previous $600,000 one-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State spoke on his organization's work continues to document the current condition of cultural heritage sites in Syria and portions of Iraq.   While useful in its own right, ASOR's federally-funded initiative often draws upon the research and analysis of other conflict antiquities researchers, some of whom consistently work below the funding radar, within this sector of expertise on a voluntary basis and without the benefit of funding from governmental or academic bodies. 

Wolfgang Weber, ‎Head of Global Regulatory Policy at eBay, spoke about the due diligence of the web-based auction powerhouse that handles 800 million online auctions a year.  Sales of illicit objects online are a known and ongoing problem where illicit antiquities are concerned and attempts to prevent such illegal activity via large auction sites such as eBay are a work in progress.  Judging from their ability to monitor other areas of illicit activity, many believe that eBay's efforts in policing their online marketplace have largely been ineffective or fallen short of desirable outcomes. 

Weber's presence on the panel underscores that the internet is being harnessed to provide valuable tools for traffickers, who exploit weaknesses in online marketplaces, making the illicit trafficking of cultural property faster, easier and ever more difficult for authorities to fight.

During his presentation Weber stated that his team's task is to identify illegal items & remove them from the online marketplace but he added that eBay does not have the capacity to check individual items, only their sales conduit.  This means that the auction site's contribution to stopping illegal sales is limited to preventing sellers from listing items of concern or in some cases removing listings before a sale can be made.  

eBay relies heavily on key word searches and external reports by individuals who inform the company when an object has been identified which is of dubious origin or legality.  Private citizens and researchers connected to small NGOs are hampered from stopping the online trafficking of items as they can only flag up what’s known to be illegal or looks that way to eBay. Those monitoring the online auction site cannot procure hard evidence by buying the actual contraband as they would then be in violation of national and international laws and treaties themselves. 

Lev Kubiak, ICE Assistant Director for International Operations spoke on US Immigration and Customs Enforcements roll in cultural property, art and antiquities investigations highlighting their 
"Operation Mummy’s Curse,” a five-year investigation carried out by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world and resulted in at least two convictions. 

Sharon Cott, Senior Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel at the Metropolitan Museum, spoke in support of AAMD member museums who apply ethical principles to safeguard against purchasing blood antiquities and to the roll of museums should play as safe havens for objects during times of unrest. 

Dr. Markus Hilgert, a professor of ancient Near-Eastern studies and Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum im Pergamonmuseum - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin spoke about his newly funded trans-disciplinary research project on the illicit trade, ILLICID, with partners in customs and law enforcement, the German Federal Foreign Office, Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, German Commission for UNESCO and ICOM. The ILLICID project is financed via the German Federal Ministry for Education.

Hilgert stressed the need to identify and develop criminological methods for in-depth analysis of illicit trafficking, stressing the need for more information on object types, turnover, networks, and various modus operandi.  He further underscored the need to adequately assess the various dimensions of money laundering and terrorist financing that may be being derived from heritage trafficking.  In conclusion he emphasized that trafficking is the number one threat to the world's cultural patrimony - more than destruction. 

ARCA would like to thank all those who were present in the room and who live-tweeted the conference and took detailed notes allowing those of us in Europe to listen in, even if it was way past our bedtimes.

A list of those folks who lent a hand are:
@cwjones89
@vagabondslog
@keridouglas
@AWOL_tweets
@mokersel
@adreinhard
@mokersel
@HeritageAtState
@ChasingAphrodit
@metmuseum
@jstpwalsh
@LarryCoben
@InventorLogan

There was a lot of ground covered and more still that needs to be covered.

by Lynda Albertson